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Cop shot at Arcola School

Madera County Historical Society

Motorcycle cop Clarence Pickett is shown here on the right. Fellow officer, Ernest McClusky, is in the center. This photo was taken after McCluskey accidentally shot Pickett at Arcola School. Three years later, McCluskey was an honor guard at Pickett’s funeral.


The new Arcola School was built in 1910, and for a decade it was a peaceful haven for the education of the children in the countryside around Borden. Then on July 29, 1920, an unthinkable event occurred. A cop was shot and almost killed on the school grounds.

Clarence Pickett barely survived the bullet wound on that Thursday morning, but in an ironic twist, three years later he was shot once again in the line of duty, only this time it cost him his life.

On that fateful July day in 1920, motorcycle cops Ernest McCluskey and Clarence Pickett decided they needed some target practice with their revolvers, so they chose Arcola School as the place to sharpen their skills since it was summer time and no kids would be on the grounds.

The two traffic cops rode out to the school and set up a target. They took turns firing at the cardboard bullseye and occasionally took a shot at a fleeing squirrel with their .32 caliber revolvers.

The two men were standing side by side, and Pickett had just taken aim when McCluskey’s gun accidentally went off and the bullet pierced Pickett’s side, striking his hip bone and traveling upward through his body. The wounded officer dropped to the ground writhing in pain but not losing consciousness.

McCluskey ran to the road and hailed a passing automobile. They put Pickett in the car and rushed him to the Madera Sanitarium where Dr. Dow Ransom took over.

Ransom x-rayed the wound and found the bullet. The doctor declared that Pickett was lucky to be alive. If the ball had traveled an inch further to the right, it would have severed a major artery, and Pickett would have died within minutes. As it was, Dr. Ransom operated on the officer and removed the bullet. Pickett got well and left the Sanitarium, but it would not be the last time the Madera physician would look for a bullet in Officer Pickett’s body.

Three years later, on the afternoon of November 11, 1923, Pickett was on patrol. He stopped a Dodge coupe just south of Berenda with four men in it. Two of them were fugitives from justice. They were wanted for robbing a grocery store in Merced. The other two were hitchhikers who had no idea what was going on.

When the traffic officer pulled the Dodge over, he searched the auto and discovered a hidden arsenal. Turning to the four men and realizing the two older ones were drunk, he sent the two hitchhikers on their way. The other two were then placed under arrest.

At that point, Pickett made a fatal mistake. He turned his back on the men to retrieve a pistol that was lying on the seat. When he once again faced the fugitives, he was shot twice in the chest. His assailants left him on the road and sped away. The two young hitchhikers ran back and waited for the next motorist to come by to carry them and the Officer Pickett to Madera.

Once again they took Officer Pickett to the Madera Sanitarium, and once again Dr. Dow Ransom stood over his bullet riddled body. This time, however, there was nothing that could be done; he had been killed instantly on the highway.

Two days later, they had Pickett’s funeral. Dr. Ransom was there and so was Ernest McCluskey. Rev. J.L. Snyder, who conducted the service felt compelled to restrain those in attendance. He asked that the citizens of Madera to “use no violence in giving vent to their feelings.”

“If he (Pickett) could speak to you now, he would say, ‘Let the law take its course’”

In time, things did settle down in Madera. The man who shot Officer Pickett died on the gallows of San Quentin a year later, and the other man spent the rest of his life in prison.

Ernest McCluskey resumed his career in law enforcement, and Dr. Ransom continued his medical practice. Surely the good doctor never forgot the irony of having Clarence Pickett as his patient — twice.

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